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Creation vs consumption mindset

There are two dominant mindsets in today's world: the creation mindset and the consumption mindset. The creative mindset is where you operate from a generative principle, you build and contribute and find happiness and fulfillment in doing creative works. The other is the consumer mindset, where you seek pleasure, entertainment, and so on. These are two distinct ways of life. In fact, they are two opposing views about the world. One view is more useful than the other.

“So black pill is an Internet nomenclature. If you're terminally online, you would know that from the matrix, you get the green pill and red pill. Red pill is sort of reality. The Internet has expanded these concepts further. So now we have a white pill. White pill is like something that is optimistic, and a black pill is something that is pessimistic or bad.

So Steve Jobs' legacy is obviously hugely positive. But I think there's some dark aspects of his impact that weren't fully explored. And I would say our relationship to computing has possibly changed forever because of his impact, again, positively and negatively.

I'm going to focus on the negative because this is what you asked me for. But computers in the early PC revolution and even before that were not seen as this purely entertainment consumption devices. Even Steve Jobs said computer is the bicycle for the mind. It is this thing that helps you think. Where we are today is that a lot of people use computers. And by computers, I mean broadly phones, anything that has a processor, in a television-like manner.

I think most people are consumers. Even when you sit on the desktop and you do your work, there's an aspect of it where you're actually just consuming someone else's software. In the past, when you sat down -- say, in the 70s or 80s, when you sat down on your PC, you were writing programs. You were writing whatever it is, DOS command, Lisp, Fortran.” — Amjad Masad, founder and CEO, Replit

This sentiment — that most people today on the internet are basically consumers of entertainment — is something that resonates with me so much. I am one of those people. I used to spend and still spend significant hours of my day mindlessly browsing the internet instead of using the incredible power of the internet to learn and create. 

This of course is not a doing of technology alone. Of course, the internet has made mindless pursuits easier but the internet/computers are not the cause of it. It’s an orientation first and then manifestation next. 

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon of the creation vs consumption mindset for a while. I think these are two distinct and in fact, opposing views about the world. One view is more useful than the other.

Unfortunately, as we grow up, we are usually taught the consumption view of living. This creates long-term tendencies. This is why we seek happiness in mindless shopping sprees or new gadgets and so many other exhausting pursuits. This tendency of consumption orientation is further exacerbated by the advertisers who constantly bombard us with various remedies for our miseries — buy that new bike, new home, new perfume, new car, new dress and you will be happy. Today’s computing environment and the internet make it even easier. Your next entertainment is just a click away. But how do we define what is a consumption mindset? 

I roughly define the consumption mindset in this way: when our motivation for operation in the world is a means to an end. For instance, we want to work hard so that we can buy an expensive home or earn fame, earn validation, buy expensive gifts, and so on. The underlying assumption of the consumer mindset is that consumption will remedy our challenges. It assumes that the solution to our inner emptiness is outside of us and is in having and acquiring more. But it is inherently a desperate life because there is no end to shiny gadgets, toys, and so on. The next iteration of the iPhone is just a few months down the line. The next best TV series is still in production. So you are in a constant run where you can’t find your tail. 

There are many reasons why we end up like this. One reason I think lies in how our society is structured. What do I mean? I think our society often, knowingly or unknowingly teaches us that the purpose of doing something is to achieve something else. For instance, we teach our kids that the purpose of education is to become doctors and engineers and then earn a ton of money and then have all the things you want to have. 

This way of looking at the world is useful but it is misleading and to some extent destructive. I’ll come to that point soon. When we are taught that the purpose of getting a good grade is to earn money or get a job, we assume getting a good grade itself is not worthwhile, the ultimate worth is in getting a job. And getting a job is not worthwhile, the ultimate worth is being able to buy a nice car, a house, and so on. The race goes on. This tendency eventually gets ingrained in us and we seek pleasure in the next hot youtube video. 

The generative mindset 

However, there is an alternative to this way of living, which I want to call the creation or generative mindset. When you take on a creative mindset, you are not so much into getting the benefits of your action, you are more interested in being able to create. The purpose of learning or education becomes to create something. 

The advantage of a creative mindset is that you still get all the benefits of the consumer mindset. If you create good things, you become successful. You can have a good house, a nice car, nice dresses, and so on. The upside is that you don’t depend on these things for your next high. More importantly, when you live a life with a creative mindset, your happiness is more enduring. Your satisfaction is more lasting. You focus on mastery and your success is more likely because you are always learning and creating. Every action you take becomes an end in itself and you use your every experience for creation. When you consume, you do so with a purpose. It is a more fulfilling life. It is a life where you're constantly giving the world. You are always contributing. 

The good thing is that today’s world offers so many opportunities to create. Distractions are indeed much easier today. Entertainment is very accessible. It is just a click away. The entire environment is primed for us to get distracted and seek the next high. But at the same time, if you are intentional and aware of your motivation and aspiration, it is so easy to switch from a consumption view of life to a creation view of life. As I said earlier, the internet has such enormous opportunities to create, you can spend every waking hour creating something. 

I have been thinking lately about how I can switch from a consumption mindset to a generative mindset. And I thought of a list of things that I can do at a minimum. Doing these things doesn't require much skill. You can do almost all of these things for free. 

You can get as much pleasure and satisfaction doing these things as you gather from watching mindless videos. Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Write more: I do a fair bit of writing online. At the same time, I waste a lot of time as well. But I can start a new newsletter/blog on a different subject that I find interesting on Substack or many other similar free platforms. 
  2. I can create beautiful designs using tools like Figma, Canva, and others. 
  3. I can make podcasts/videos using free tools. 
  4. I can interact with like-minded people in relevant forums 
  5. I can learn new skills such as programming and find new ways of applying them. 
  6. I can make books out of the writings that I do. 
  7. I can try to build an online community for the topics I’m interested in. 

What holds us back and what can we do about it

I realized that with the few skills I have, I can do an endless number of things that can fill my day for the better and that can give me far more meaningful satisfaction. But adopting a creative mindset is difficult. There are many reasons. But for me, it has been fear and discomfort. Would other people find what I have to say interesting? Am I good enough? 

These are questions that creative types have faced for ages. Stephen King also faces this question every day. Humayun Ahmed also dealt with these same questions. I can do a deep dive into how to deal with this feeling but it will not be enough. There is great literature on how to deal with these feelings. I would recommend Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

There are many paths out of this pathology of the mind. I will mention two simple paths out of these feelings. 

One, ignore them. Feel these emotions. Feel the fear. And do your best regardless. 

Second, start creating pseudonymously. Almost all great writers and creators have a history of doing work pseudonymously because they suffered from the same fear. You can start creating pseudonymously. Some of the most famous creators online today started their journey pseudonymously. Maria Popova, who writes the excellent The Marginalian (previously Brain Pickings) started pseudonymously. Byline in all her early posts used to be Brainpickings. By the time she revealed her name, Brainpickings was already a huge success. 

The second challenge is discomfort. This is because we have gotten so comfortable in our endless consumption spree that it is hard to switch to an alternative mood. Watching a youtube video does not take any effort. You just open the app or website and start playing. The same is true for almost all the distractions we modern people deal with. It is just a click away and it takes only a swipe. 

On the other hand, creating takes effort. At least at the beginning, you have to put in some effort. You need to sit down in front of an empty page and fill it with words that you aren’t confident about. It is not comfortable. It is like going for a run after ages or going to the gym after ages of a sedentary lifestyle. Every part of your body aches after the first few rounds. It is super uncomfortable. But like going to the gym, when you start practicing regularly, it gets easier and better. You start enjoying it. And it helps you be healthy and in better shape. 

Again, there is no magic wand that you can use to wish away your discomfort. Our limbs have gotten slower due to sedentary living. It will hurt initially when we start moving. But once we start moving regardless of the pain, it gets better. And it becomes rewarding as we go ahead. The same is true with this psychological discomfort. 

 In meditation, they ask you to sit with your discomfort. We have to do the same if we want to live a creative life. Feel the fear and discomfort. Befriend them. And create. In 2023, consider switching your orientation from a consumer mindset to a generative mindset.  

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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